WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal agency tasked with screening passengers before they get on planes says officers this year have stopped a record number of guns brought by passengers attempting to go through airport security checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration said in a news release Friday that officers have stopped 6,301 firearms so far this year, and the agency is anticipating that number will rise to 6,600 by the end of the year. That’s nearly a 10% increase over last year, which was already a record, the agency said. Nearly 90% of the weapons caught so far were loaded, the agency said. The agency considers a weapon to be loaded if the passenger has access to both the gun and the ammunition.
In response, the agency said it is increasing the maximum civil penalty for firearms violations to $14,950. Passengers caught with a weapon also lose their TSA PreCheck status — a security program that allows passengers that go through prescreening to bypass some airport security measures like taking their shoes off — for at least five years, the agency said.
“Firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags at the checkpoint and onboard aircraft. When a passenger brings a firearm to the checkpoint, this consumes significant security resources and poses a potential threat to transportation security, in addition to being very costly for the passenger,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in the news release.
With the exception of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic caused air traffic to plummet, the number of guns intercepted at airport checkpoints has steadily climbed every year since 2010, the agency said.
People caught with weapons in their carry-on bags can also face criminal charges depending on which state they live in, the agency said.
The agency’s website lists a string of incidents across the country where screening officers have caught guns going through X-ray machines. Guns are allowed on planes but only as checked baggage and they have to be declared to airlines.